Wood smoke engulfs the Acropolis, a wood smoke that is killing Athens’ citizens, as scientists from our very own city just showed in a new, revealing study.
But no one listens, surely not in Athens nor in Greece in general, and this is the problem. Authorities over here (but allover the world too, actually) are so busy wanting to bring back business as usual, so much so that they allow us Greeks to literally committing suicide in order to get to that. And when someone tells them, they prefer not to listen, as usual. No one listens.
A new study conducted right here in Athens by Greek scientists shows that wood smoke accounts for almost half of the annual carcinogenic potential of the city’s Air Pollution. This means that a large number of cancer cases in Athens are due to wood smoke-related high PM levels. The authors call for immediate action to reduce residential wood smoke emissions in urban areas.
And this is not happening in Athens only, but allover Greece. You need just to look at the PurpleAir.com map every evening to see how big the issue in our country is. Literally, the whole country stinks of wood smoke in winter, in every one of its corners. Have a look at the city of Agrinio, which is looking like the worse place in Greece to live in winter, but people don’t know. Sadly, several of the PurpleAir sensors of the city that have the worse levels of air pollution are placed in schools. Imagine those kids having to breathe such levels of toxic air, for a whole winter, year after year. It’s just like those kids are forced to play a Russian roulette with the chance of ending up with lung cancer after 20 or more years only because, unknowingly of the consequences, their very own parents warmed up the house with wood. We will not know, they will not know how they got ill, but it will happen, it’s just a matter of statistics.
Two nights ago we had in Athens the highest Air Pollution spell of the winter. Wood smoke smell was intolerable allover the city. PM2,5 concentrations in Thiseio (central Athens) climbed to over 100 μg/m3 for the first time this winter (first Purple Air chart here below), and in Nea Irakleio they went to over 250 μg/m3 (second chart). These are huge concentrations, considering that the safety limit set by the WHO (World Health Organization) is 5 μg/m3. Not 50, not 500, but 5! That’s fifty times lower that we had two nights ago…
We don’t have to take this filthy, carcinogenic air for granted. Because it is not normal. There is no need to reduce a whole country to smelling of wood smoke for 6 months in winter in order to get warm at night. There are other heating systems that warm up our houses without the cancer tag attached.
But we need to get informed about the issue and act. Without immediately turning the head away just because we don’t want to hear about yet another big problem in our country. In fact, the Air pollution and the related climate crisis are the BIGGEST PROBLEMS that we are facing right now – much more than COVID-19 and any economic crisis – and that will stay with us in the future. We had better to finally start doing something about them, because they won’t go away on their own. We are creating them ourselves by doing business as usual, and only by undoing this we can start fixing them. We need to stop burning altogether, anything. We need to leave fossil fuels in the ground, and stop burning biomass (wood, wood pellets, wood chips, farming leftovers, etc). We need to embrace sustainable ways of living and harvesting energy. ASAP. The clock is ticking, and once the natural balances that have kept the earth atmosphere stable over the past millennia and that have allowed our civilization to flourish will have been disrupted (if this has not already happened), then there will be no way back. Is this so difficult to grasp? We are very near or already there, unfortunately. The turning point. What is next, is not going to be easy at all.